Worker participation in occupational health and safety (OHS) generally achieves better outcomes than unilateral management initiatives. But in a 'cold' industrial relations climate, meaningful participation is increasingly difficult. This article focuses on the Australian mining industry. It explores how the strength and reach of the unions have been undermined and why OHS law has only limited capacity to mitigate the resulting imbalance of power. It then draws on interview data to provide a profile of the consequences of worker vulnerability. Finally, it examines to what extent other mechanisms can redress the balance or whether, in a changing world of work, increasingly precarious employment and emasculated unions, the prospects for effective worker participation in OHS are bleak.